When she woke the next morning Emma’s eye still hurt from crying so much the night before, but she felt much better otherwise. She dressed quickly and slipped from her room to find Regina at her post outside of the doors to her chambers.
The brunette nodded to her. “Princess.”
Emma scowled but said nothing. The other woman wanted to maintain a façade of professionalism while she was on duty. She thought it was ridiculous since they were getting married, but Emma allowed it anyway.
“Regina.” She wanted to go up and hug the other woman and thank her for last night, maybe if she was feeling bold a peck on the cheek too, but Regina would probably scold her for that later. Instead she settled for a warm smile and tried to communicate with her eyes just how much she appreciated the comfort the other woman had given her. She motioned the other woman through to her rooms and sat in front of the fireplace again. Regina stood at attention off to the side.
Emma looked over at the woman. “What have you heard of my mother today? And don’t lie to me, we both know you’ve had your feelers in the court out ever since you rose today.”
“I have made some inquiries, but the thing is that no one knows anything, just that your mother and you have been having a few fights mostly focused around the subject of me, nothing new.”
Worry marred Emma’s face. “That’s not good.”
“No, it makes me quite wary as well. Quiet fury is always worse than loud anger. I do not know what you’re mother might be planning. Perhaps it’s nothing, we can always hope. But if she is, then the fact that she’s quiet says to me that she’s planning something bigger than just a public chiding of your actions.”
Emma sighed and sunk lower into her seat. “Just what I always wanted.” She started to rub her temples. A headache was brewing at the base of her skull and if she was right it would turn into quite the doozy.
“No matter what she can’t stop you from inheriting the throne, you made sure of that.”
“How could she not just twist it to say I threw away my right to the throne, too?”
“She could, but there are safeguards against such things. You aren’t the first royals to have a disagreement. There wouldn’t be a kingdom anymore if the truth couldn’t be ferreted out in family arguments. The lines of inheritance would have ended a thousand times over by now. I’d be more worried if you had a sibling who could easily take over the line and was more favored, but since you are an only child and your mother is past child bearing age you are the only way this kingdom will have a ruler, not that the nobility wouldn’t love to advance one of their own to take over, but even your mother wouldn’t want to see that after a thousand years of Whites on the throne.”
“But then what could she be doing that’s so hideous?”
“The most probable thing at the moment would be to fabricate evidence against me to prove I really was casting a spell on you. There are a thousand other possibilities, but your mother isn’t known for playing the long game. Whatever it is she has planned we will find out soon enough.”
“Before or after the wedding? She has less than a week now.”
“I don’t know, that depends on what she wants to do, really. In less than a week she cannot ram through a case of the magnitude of me putting a spell on you. The arguments that would have to be constructed against why our engagement was a fraud and shouldn’t be counted under the old kingdom traditions would take time, as would the fabrication of evidence. She’d actually have to find someone who could cast a spell on you so magical residue would be found on you. There aren’t many witches in the kingdom and they’re wise enough not to come anywhere near the palace.”
“So then what?”
“I don’t know, princess.”
Emma stood and walked over to the balcony doors. The curtains were pulled back letting in the bright mid-morning light but not open, the morning was far too chilly just yet. “Those weren’t exactly the answers I was looking for.” She sighed.
“I wouldn’t think so.”
“I know you have friends within the staff, but really I need someone to obtain information that’s more than just gossip. My mother and the council have spies for such purposes, but I have no one.”
“You want to spy on your mother?”
Emma glanced back over her shoulder. “In this case? Yes. She might be endangering our future with whatever she’s doing. If we knew what was going on, if we couldn’t stop it, at least we could be prepared for it.”
“I see your point, but where would we get someone who could weave among your mother’s people for such a purpose?”
“Are all loyal to her.”
Emma smiled, watching her reflection in the glass return the expression. “Not all of them.”
“You know someone?”
Regina walked up behind Emma, concerned face appearing in the glass. “I appreciate having information, but what if your mother finds out. This is high treason, spying on a monarch. That’s beside the fact that it will make relations between you and your mother even worse.”
“I’m not sure that’s possible.” Emma crossed her arms in front of her.
Regina out a hand on Emma’s shoulder. “I think it is, even now. There’s a point of no return, and you haven’t crossed it yet. You’re teetering on the edge, yes, but there’s still hope. If you come crashing down on the right side you might be able to talk to your mother, truly talk, and work out all the differences that have come between you over the years slowly. Fall on the other side and she will truly be lost to you forever. Tell me, is that what you really want? Because your distraught behavior last night tells me otherwise.”
Emma was silent for a long time. She stared beyond her reflection in the glass out to the trees that would be turning colors very soon and their pine companions. Winter was going to be too long a season this year. “No, that’s not what I want.”
“I did not think so.” Regina squeezed her shoulder and stepped back. “You should eat, Princess, you barely did last night and you have a long day ahead of you.”
Emma nodded and went to look for one of her ladies maids. She didn’t feel like facing everything just yet.
She managed to just get through another council meeting with a straight face. Emma had tried her best to listen, but knew she hadn’t done a good job. She had caught snatches of conversation, no more than that. She figured that Regina would forgive her for her transgression at least this once. Most of the meeting she had been looking at her mother from under her eyelashes. The woman hadn’t seemed affected at all by what had happened the day before. Emma didn’t understand how that was even possible. Had they really grown so far apart in the last few months that her announcement that they were no longer mother and daughter truly had no affect? Or had her mother turned into some hard hearted version of herself that felt nothing? The woman who had raised her for all these years would have been devastated if she had said the same words to her just a few years before.
The Princess was quite sure that the only reason she didn’t try to interrupt the council meeting to ask her mother about it was Regina’s quiet presence behind her. It calmed her just enough to keep a rational head. She didn’t want to take back 99 percent of the things she had said, only that they weren’t mother and daughter. Everything else still stood, she was still angry, but it was tempered now by fear and time. It would only make it worse, however, to air such dirty laundry to the council. She could already hear Regina’s lecture if she did say something, so she kept her mouth shut.
When the council members started to file out, Emma stood and looked hesitantly at her mother. Should she apologize? Would a qualified apology really do anything at this point? Emma looked at Regina. The other woman’s eyes gave away nothing of what she should or shouldn’t do. Emma frowned. This would be the one time that the knight would leave it up to her to decide what to do. She looked back at her mother. An apology certainly wouldn’t hurt at this point. It wasn’t as if it could really make it any worse.
Emma stepped forward and opened her mouth, but before any words could make it out her mother interrupted her.
“Emma, would you give Regina and I a few moments alone?”
Emma froze, looking between the two women. Oh, this could not be good at all. But her mother was looking at her expectantly. Regina sent her just the slightest nod, shifting so her arm brushed her sword. The other woman could handle herself, but Emma was worried that that was what was going to be her downfall. If her mother really wanted her gone she wouldn’t be against faking an assassination attempt and blaming Regina. Or even just saying Regina tried to kill her. It would be a Queen’s word against a knight and there was only one way that that could end.
She sent one last look at Regina, begging her to be careful before she stepped from the room. Emma barely made it out the door before she was pressing her ear against the door, but it was too thick and she heard absolutely nothing. She cursed and backed away. Gods damned good craftsmanship. She wanted thin doors so she could hear what in the world her mother wanted with her fiancée. She may be her mother, but right now Emma didn’t trust her as far as she could throw her.
The minutes standing outside the door seemed to stretch into eternity. Emma started to pace. The longer this went on the more horrible scenarios played in her head, things that wouldn’t ever even happen, but her mind kept on imagining them anyway. A dragon would not fit inside the council chamber, let alone be slaughtering Regina while her mother watched. She pulled in a deep breath and tried to calm down. It was futile, but Regina’s words about always remaining composed echoed through her head so she tried her best.
When Regina finally opened the door a few minutes later Emma almost tackled her to the ground. She let the door shut behind the knight before she asked, “Are you ok?”
Regina shot her a rather blank look and didn’t say anything. She laced her hands through Emma’s and pulled them away from the council chambers. Emma tried again, asking Regina if she was ok as they walked, but Regina still was silent. The other woman wasn’t too terribly talkative on duty, but this was unnerving. Emma was about to pull them to a stop, tug Regina into a secluded alcove and demand what was going on, but Regina was leading them towards her chambers, so she tamped down on the urge.
When the doors to her rooms shut, Regina relaxed slightly, but still didn’t talk. She walked over to the couch and sank down, hand gripping her sword so hard that it was white. Emma quickly sat down beside her, bringing up a hand to Regina’s face and turning the woman’s head so she faced her.
“Regina, seriously, what is wrong? What did my mother do to you? You have to tell me so we can fix whatever she’s done, that’s what you always say to me. We can think of something, can’t we?”
Regina closed her eyes and for all the world looked like she was about to break down. The moment passed, though, and she opened her eyes again, looking much less blank than a few moments before.
“No, I’m not sure we can.”
“What do you mean? Regina, just tell me. You’re making me think she sentenced you to death or something and you’ll be dead within the hour and there’s no way for me to stop it.” Emma’s eyes widened. “Please dear gods tell me that isn’t it.”
Regina shook her head. “No, I’m not going to die within the hour.” She turned and looked out towards the balcony and the sky beyond.
“That still makes it sound like you’re going to die soon. That’s not exactly comforting. Damn it, Regina, stop being so vague.”
“That’s not language befitting a Princess.”
“I don’t care right now. Just tell me!” Emma’s hand dropped from Regina’s face to her shoulder, shaking the brunette just a little.
Regina turned to face her again. “Your mother sent a letter to mine, inviting her to the wedding on royal stationary with one of her ridiculous royal sky rats just to be sure that my mother knew it wasn’t a hoax.” She looked away again, hand gripping the sword at her side harder than ever.
Emma gasped and shrank back into the couch. “She didn’t. She knows what in the world that woman put you through.”
“She does and yet she did anyway.”
Emma’s anger flared again. The mother that she knew would not do such a thing for a personal grudge. Perhaps she wasn’t quite so sorry she had told her mother that they were not family after all.
“What’s going to happen, do you think your mother will come?”
“I’m not sure, and I think that’s what scares me the most.”
“Because if she doesn’t come that does not mean that she’s not plotting something to do with the information your mother just willingly handed her. She’s such a fool. She fears the Dark Kingdom but willingly harbored the runaway princess and now gave my mother complete leave to attack just to return me to my proper place.” Regina snorted and stood, starting to pace the room. “My mother would have never believed the rumors of peasants about me marrying you. She probably believed I was still running across the world, never stopping for long, to out run her, or that I was dead. She would’ve never considered the option that I’d settle down somewhere. I surely would have never been so foolish. That was exactly why I picked a kingdom far enough away from my mother for any news to get to her would be horrendously out of date and distorted by the peasants but close enough that she never would search here after the first wave of scouts,” Regina continued to ramble. “But now that’s ruined.”
“What do you mean? What could she plan without even coming to see if it was for sure you here?” Emma interrupted her.
“My mother has other ways to make sure it is indeed me here. She doesn’t need to show her face at the wedding. She has probable cause to attack the kingdom because of me, as I said. She could be planning an invasion instead.”
“There’s no way we can keep out the Dark Kingdom’s forces. On our army’s better days we could hold off a kingdom half our size, but nothing more.”
“And my mother has the best army for a thousand leagues, I’m well aware. Your puny forces wouldn’t last a week, perhaps not even a day.”
“So it’s worse if she doesn’t show up?” Emma stood, wanting to comfort the other woman, but she was far too agitated to accept any.
Regina halted her pacing. “That’s not for certain, either. My mother is very good at playing the long game as well. I’m marrying into the royal family here, Emma. If you don’t think that she’ll see a golden opportunity in that, you aren’t looking hard enough.”
Emma sighed and nodded, going over to Regina now that she was standing still once more. “Is there anyway she’ll just do nothing?”
Regina laughed humorlessly for a long moment. “No. Only if that stupid bird got eaten by a falcon, that’s the only way she will do nothing.”
“So what do we do?”
“In this case?” Regina closed her eyes and visibly slumped. “In this case I have no idea.” She opened her eyes, brown gaze filled with fear and pain. “I can deal with idiot nobles and even your stupid parents, but my own? I’ve never known how to deal with her and it’s been years since I’ve had to.”
Emma stepped forward just a bit, her hands found Regina’s armor covered waist. “You have something you never had back in those days, me. You keep telling me that we’ll figure things out, and I know that this could be twenty times worse than anything that’s come up in my life in the past literal forever, but that doesn’t change anything. Two heads are still better than one.”
Regina moved to tug out of Emma’s hold, but Emma wouldn’t let her. She gripped on harder and moved with Regina as she backed away. Regina scowled, but eventually stopped, just staring at Emma.
“If she comes after us, Emma, we’ll be fighting a war on two fronts. Those never end well. Too much focus on one side and the other overwhelms you. We can’t fight your mother and mine at the same time, it just won’t work. We will go down somehow and it won’t be pretty.”
“But if she attacks the kingdom then it would eliminate the problem with my mother. There will be absolutely no time to fight out a family feud when we’ll quite literally be fighting for our lives.”
Regina scoffed. “Please, fights last through the most inopportune of times. Your mother is far too stubborn to let anything go.” She looked at Emma. “And so are you.”
Emma scowled. “Thank you for that lovely observation, but you said that the whole hard headed stubborn thing would come in handy once upon a time.”
“I did, but I left out the part where that could also be your downfall if you don’t know how to temper it. You can’t be stubborn all the time, Princess.”
“Yes, my knight.” Emma rolled her eyes. “The point still stands, Regina. If it comes to your mother attacking us something will give with my mother. If not her then I suppose I’ll find something to please her just to save our own skins. I might want to throw up in my mouth a little bit doing it, but alive and nauseous is better than dead.”
Regina looked at her for a long moment. “We still won’t win.”
“What happened to the realist that normally inhabits this set of armor?” Emma tapped on Regina’s armor a few times.
“There is no room for any optimism when faced with my mother.”
Emma drew Regina closer to her, faces only a few inches apart now. “Regina, for now there is absolutely nothing that you do. Stop worrying until there is. We’ll send scouts out the Dark Kingdom and we’ll watch every single move that your mother and her army makes. I’ll tell Claudine to watch for your mother’s return reply and let me know what she said. Until either one of those things comes back with news then all worrying will get you is sick. You keep telling me we’ll figure it out together, well now you need to believe it.”
Regina swallowed hard. “Emma, you don’t understand. My mother—she just—I’m,” Regina’s voice broke. “I’m terrified of her Emma. With all I’ve seen she’s the single most terrifying person there is, and yet she’s still my mother and I just—”
Emma drew Regina into a full blown hug. Regina hesitated a second before sinking into her arms. She drew in shuddering breath after shuddering breath, but never cried.
“I know, Regina. I get it, I really do. Your mother is your mother and sometimes you feel a connection even if you don’t want to, but no one is invincible, not even her. That’s what you’ve been teaching me, isn’t it?”
Regina laughed weakly. “I suppose it is.”
“Good, then I’ve actually been understanding. Better than I can say for most of the study of etiquette.”
Regina sunk even further into Emma’s embrace. Emma just held on and focused on the other woman’s breaths against her neck. She wanted to rub circles on Regina’s back, but she knew that would be useless with the armor, so she just settled for holding the woman tightly.
When Regina pulled back some time later, she looked at Emma with eyes full of emotions that Emma couldn’t even begin to name. “Thank you.”
Emma nodded. “You’re welcome.” She didn’t know what else to say after that, but she felt like something was missing. The words wouldn’t come, though, so she just leaned up and kissed Regina on the cheek lightly.
The brunette sighed quietly. “We have a meeting with our wedding planner in a few minutes. It wouldn’t do to miss that less than a week out.”
Emma nodded, so back to business then. Just as well, it would distract Regina from her mother for at least a little while. “No, that it wouldn’t. Let’s go then.” She grabbed Regina’s hand and led them out of the room.